Argentine president ousts media regulator chief

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Argentina's conservative leader Mauricio Macri, pictured with his wife and daughter at the Casa Rosada on December 10, 2015, ousted the country's top broadcast-media regulator December 23 in his latest swipe at the legacy of his left-wing predecessor

Argentina's conservative leader Mauricio Macri, pictured with his wife and daughter at the Casa Rosada on December 10, 2015, ousted the country's top broadcast-media regulator December 23 in his latest swipe at the legacy of his left-wing predecessor (AFP Photo/Cezaro De Luca)

Buenos Aires (AFP) - Argentine President Mauricio Macri has ousted the head of the country's broadcast media regulator, his administration said Wednesday, the conservative leader's latest swipe at the legacy of his left-wing predecessor.

Macri, who took over from president Cristina Kirchner on December 10, has signed a decree removing Kirchner loyalist Martin Sabbatella as director of the Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA), said Communications Minister Oscar Aguad.

"He takes decisions without abiding by government policies. He is in open rebellion," Aguad told a news conference, as a heavy police contingent deployed outside the AFSCA's offices, where Kirchner supporters had gathered.

The decision is the latest twist in a long-running controversy over a 2009 media law passed under Kirchner, which the country's largest media group, Clarin, condemns as an attack on the free press.

The law, which Clarin has challenged in court, aimed to break up what Kirchner described as media monopolies and established the AFSCA to grant and regulate broadcast licenses.

But Clarin, whose newspapers and cable channels are sharply critical of Kirchner, calls the law an attack on the opposition press and private property.

It has successfully resisted efforts to force it to sell off its cable TV properties.

Sabbatella, who had said that any attempt to remove him before his term ended in 2017 would be a "brutal abuse" of power, condemned the decision outside AFSCA headquarters.

"We are going to ask the courts to halt all this craziness," he said.

Macri has named conservative lawyer Agustin Garzon to replace Sabbatella.

He also replaced the head of a second regulatory body, the Federal Authority for Information Technology and Communications, with another political ally.

Macri, who vows to get Argentina's slumping economy back on track with business-friendly government, has steadily hacked away at Kirchner's legacy since taking office.

In his first week he scrapped the official exchange rate, prompting a sharp devaluation of the peso, as well as axing heavy export taxes.

He has already drawn the wrath of tens of thousands of protesters in a country deeply divided over the end of 12 years of left-wing government under Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor Nestor.